Freedom, to be sustainable, requires not just Liberty in the abstract. What Os Guinness calls “the golden triangle of freedom” includes also Virtue as well as “Faith in something.” Without these three together, Freedom by itself cannot be maintained.
In his 2014 book, ‘A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future,’ Guinness delves deep into quotes from the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, plus also great thinkers from Western history – all to underscore the point that free peoples typically do not remain free forever.
Yet the audacious hope of the men who won the War of Independence against Great Britain in the late 18th century, then went on to turn 13 colonies into what is now the world’s declining yet still pre-eminent superpower, was that this free people would remain free forever.
Their ambition was not based on nothing, however. Students of Polybius, Cicero, Augustine, and others – the great men of renown who constituted the United States in the first place did so after careful study of what had caused other great empires and peoples to both rise and fail in maintaining their civilizations and societies.
As Guinness points out, in our day we have almost entirely divorced our ideas of liberty from their requisite partners – faith and virtue. Those are now thoroughly private matters, and liberty has been accordingly redefined to the point that any reminder of an objective standard of good character is shouted down because we are infringing on someone else’s freedom in the abstract.
Yet freedom cannot only exist in a negative sense, as freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, or freedom from infringements on our 1st and 2nd Amendment rights exemplify. There is also a positive kind of freedom which is to and for something – freedom to do what one ought and must as a fulfillment of duty to God and our fellow man.
In our obsession with negative liberty, Guinness argues, we have lost sight of the sense in which our freedom is to do more than just whatever we want. Freedom is also crucially to do what we ought and what we must. But in this state of intentional amnesia, anyone telling us we must do something is said to be infringing on our freedom, because freedom to us is only to do what we want. And in our abandonment of faith and virtue we do not want to do what we ought.
Yet here again, to the extent that faith and virtue have become private matters, the American Republic has been just that much deprived of public faith and virtue. And the results are nothing short of catastrophic. Thus we waiver somewhere between Thomas Cole’s third and fourth paintings in his 1833-1836 series The Course of Empire – transitioning now from The Culmination to Destruction panels as many previous great empires throughout history have.
As demonstrated by the recent Supreme Court ruling which overturned Roe v. Wade, plus the subsequent response from angry Leftists and ambivalent establishment conservatives, this country is in crisis. And this is due to a nearly wholesale rejection of duty as oppressive. Men no longer have the duty even to be men. And women no longer have the duty to be women. In fact, we have flown so far and fast from even these basic duties to be men and women that we want to be liberated from even the claim that there is any such thing as men and women. Or, for those of us who want no such thing, we at least want to be liberated from any responsibility to oppose the assisted suicide of the American Republic.
Yet it is tragic how we all seem suddenly to believe again that there is such a thing as women now that the subject needs to be changed back to arguing what right they have to have their own children murdered. And the ball is in the court of the Pro Life movement to argue whether mothers who seek to get an abortion in states where that will now be illegal should be prosecuted for a crime. It would be funny if it were not so sad that the Left finishes Pride Month in the U.S. screeching at the sky again about women’s rights after having just denied emphatically for weeks that they even know what a woman is.
But this is all to say that Guinness is right. If we want to endure in The Culmination and not end in Destruction we must repent. We must rekindle and revive Christian faith and virtue in this country. Otherwise we cannot regain or sustain freedom, and in that case we are doomed.
“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
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